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Rare Timepieces Unveiled In New Display At The Science Museum

  • More than 20 extraordinary timepieces designed by inventor and watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet (1747 – 1823) are to go on public display together in a museum for the first time.
  • The items include a unique and innovative gold watch made in 1808 for George III.
  • The display marks the bicentenary of Breguet’s death and the start of a new programme of annual displays in the Clockmakers’ Museum at the Science Museum.
Three views of gold watch with four-minute tourbillon by A-L Breguet, No. 1297. Paris, sold in 1808 to George III © Sotheby’s, London
Three views of Breguet No. 1297 Garde temps, échappement à tourbillon.

Abraham-Louis Breguet: The English Connection
Clockmakers’ Museum, Science Museum
Ticketed, free
Opens 12 September 2023
www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/clocks

A new display containing timepieces by one of the greatest watchmakers of all time, Abraham-Louis Breguet, is to open in the Clockmakers’ Museum at the Science Museum on Tuesday 12 September. Abraham-Louis Breguet: The English Connection has been created to mark the bicentenary of Breguet’s death on 17 September 1823, and brings together a selection of his remarkable pieces, united by their connection to England. This new display will be the first in a programme of annually changing displays which will showcase extraordinary objects from public and private horological collections.

The display will feature 25 important items seldom seen in public before, including an exceptionally rare gold four-minute tourbillon watch made for George III in 1808. This cutting-edge pocket watch was ordered for the King who notably had a great interest in the sciences and had his own collection of instruments in his private observatory at Kew. The watch was ordered at a time when England was at war with France, and interestingly, bears the signature of Breguet’s London agent, Louis Recordon, perhaps to disguise its French origins at the time.

The exquisite timepiece features a gold case and dial with multiple contrasting finishes and blued steel moon hands, and includes the rare feature of a thermometer. The watch is labelled as a ‘Whirling About Regulator’, another literal translation from the French ‘Régulateur à Tourbillon’, meaning ‘whirlwind’. The radical and now-famous tourbillon mechanism was developed by Breguet to help pocket watches keep good time and its invention in 1801 is considered one of the greatest technical achievements in watchmaking. Its legacy, alongside Breguet’s many other innovations, can still be found in modern wristwatches today. 

Born in 1747 in Switzerland, Breguet travelled to France as a teenager to study the field of watchmaking, eventually establishing himself as a leading master craftsman in Paris. He counted Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette amongst his clients, alongside other international nobility, and the elegance and technical innovations of his designs were considered the height of style and fashion. His English clients read as a who’s who of Georgian Britain and during the late 1700s, he frequently visited London, becoming friends with one of the country's finest chronometer makers, John Arnold, and later recruited English craftsmen to work for him in France.

Other Breguet items with English connections on display will include the ‘Simple à 2 aiguilles equation’ pocket watch made for politician Thomas Noel Hill, 2nd Baron Berwick of Attingham. The elegant gold timepiece contains an ingenious mechanism which can tell mean time (indicated by a silver star) and true solar, or sundial time (indicated by a gold sun disc on the dial). Also on display will be the gilt bronze carriage clock ‘Pendule de voyage petite’ originally belonging to Robert Henry Herbert, the 12th Earl Pembroke, with ‘flaming torch’ columns, and the silver watch with one-minute tourbillon No. 2571 which was originally bought from Breguet by the Princess de Valançay in 1812 for 1600 francs and which subsequently formed part of the well-known Sir David Lionel Salomons Bt Collection.

Anna Rolls, Curator of the Clockmakers’ Museum and Archive, said: ‘I am delighted that we now have the opportunity to showcase some extraordinary pieces from private and public collections from around the world, and hope that these annually changing displays will allow the public to learn more about the fascinating world of horology. Abraham-Louis Breguet: The English Connection, especially the four-minute tourbillon watch, is exciting because George III was a fervent supporter of the sciences, particularly horology, and was known to take timepieces apart to better understand their workings. His commission and the resulting watch represent the pinnacle of horological technology of its time. Breguet’s genius in design and mechanical innovation must really be seen to be fully appreciated.’

The new display will provide an opportunity for visitors to see some extremely rare, technically remarkable watches and clocks up close alongside other incredible items from the Clockmakers’ Museum - the oldest collection of clocks and watches in the world. These items, assembled by the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers which was founded in 1631, includes, amongst other items, some 600 watches, 90 clocks and 30 marine timekeepers and spans the period from the 15th century to the present day. Abraham-Louis Breguet: The English Connection marks the start of a significant loan collaboration with the Science Museum.

Dr Peter Thomas, Collections Committee Chair of the Clockmakers' Museum and Archive, said: “We start our series of annual displays with the work of Abraham-Louis Breguet whose genius has captured the enthusiasm of generations of clients and collectors. The Worshipful Company of Clockmakers is mounting this series of annual displays to promote the wonderful legacy that the art and craft of horology provides. Our intention is to give all an opportunity to see rare objects many of which are not on public view.”

The exhibit will open on 12 September 2023 within the Clockmakers’ Museum on Level 2 of the Science Museum.

ENDS

Notes to Editors

Visitor Information

Clockmakers’ Museum
Science Museum, London
Ticketed, free
#breguet

www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/clocks

For further information and interview requests, please contact Lucy Preston through pressoffice.SCM@sciencemuseum.ac.uk, or 020 7942 4886.

About The Science Museum 

TheScience Museum is part of the Science Museum Group, the worlds leading group of science museums that share a world-class collection providing an enduring record of scientific, technological and medical achievements from across the globe. Over the last century the Science Museum, the home of human ingenuity, has grown in scale and scope, inspiring visitors with exhibitions covering topics as diverse as robots, code-breaking, cosmonauts and superbugs. 2020 marked a decade of transformation for the museum with the opening of the largest medical galleries in the world –Medicine: The Wellcome GalleriesandScience City 1550-1800: The Linbury Gallery the story of how London became a hub of discovery during 1550-1800. The Science Museum was named a winner of the prestigious Art Fund Museum of the Year prize for 2020. www.sciencemuseum.org.uk.Follow onTwitter,FacebookandInstagram.

About The Worshipful Company of CLOCKmakers

The Clockmakers' Company has four centuries of history in supporting and promoting the horological industries and crafts. Founded in 1631, as watch and clockmaking was beginning to flourish in London, the Company remains a champion of excellence in a global trade that is moving from strength to strength. Today, the Company's activities range from supporting education and skills to inspiring the public through its world-class museum housed at the Science Museum, London, part of the world’s leading alliance of science museums. It is also at the heart of industry networks, offering members access to expertise and opportunities across the world. Times may be uncertain, but there has never been a more rewarding time to work in watch and clockmaking. Careers in horology can offer a lifetime of satisfaction. Motivated young people seeking a hands-on vocation have never been in greater demand. For more information please visit: www.clockmakers.org.

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Discover South Kensington brings together the Science Museum and other leading cultural and educational organisations to promote innovation and learning. South Kensington is the home of science, arts and inspiration. Discovery is at the core of what happens here and there is so much to explore every day. www.discoversouthken.com

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